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Nat Neurosci. 2013 Mar;16(3):340-8. doi: 10.1038/nn.3328. Epub 2013 Feb 3.

The primate amygdala combines information about space and value.

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Department of Neuroscience, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA.


A stimulus predicting reinforcement can trigger emotional responses, such as arousal, and cognitive ones, such as increased attention toward the stimulus. Neuroscientists have long appreciated that the amygdala mediates spatially nonspecific emotional responses, but it remains unclear whether the amygdala links motivational and spatial representations. To test whether amygdala neurons encode spatial and motivational information, we presented reward-predictive cues in different spatial configurations to monkeys and assessed how these cues influenced spatial attention. Cue configuration and predicted reward magnitude modulated amygdala neural activity in a coordinated fashion. Moreover, fluctuations in activity were correlated with trial-to-trial variability in spatial attention. Thus, the amygdala integrates spatial and motivational information, which may influence the spatial allocation of cognitive resources. These results suggest that amygdala dysfunction may contribute to deficits in cognitive processes normally coordinated with emotional responses, such as the directing of attention toward the location of emotionally relevant stimuli.

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